Yesterday, our pug Maximus underwent his last radiation treatment targeting the tumor in his mouth. Unlike humans, dogs can only undergo a set number of treatments. Any more, I was informed, and they risk damaging the surrounding healthy cells. Don’t know why this same logic doesn’t apply to human beings but all this to say Thursday was Max’s fifth and final procedure.
He was his usual easy-going self going in, proceeding at a leisurely pace up the stairs, briefly acknowledging the other dogs and cooing owners before settling in for the short wait – parking himself under the seats to presumably make it harder for us to corral him. Unlike my other dogs who will bolt at the sight of a white coat (I suppose you can include me in that group), Maximus is fairly resigned to the realities of vet/hospital visits. Aside from some pre-separation anxiety – manifested by uncontrollable trembling – he seems fairly unconcerned going in.
We received some promising news after the first treatment. Apparently, the tumor had shrunk a little. On the other hand, one of his lymph nodes was swollen and an aspiration suggested suspicious cellular activity. In a subsequent treatment, the lymph node shrunk back considerably, suggesting that particular melanoma had responded to the radiation. Unfortunately, there was no further movement on the tumor which stubbornly refused to shrink any further.
In addition to his radiation treatment, Maximus is receiving an “anti-cancer vaccine” every second week. Its purpose is to jump start the immune system in the hope it will battle the cancer. While it’s shown promising results, these results have been very limited (to what, if I remember correctly, was a less than 25 % success rate). According to the radiation oncologist, while the radiation should see immediate results, the anti-cancer vaccine positive influence – if effective – won’t manifest itself until months down the line.
Maximus has always been very relaxed – even more so since his diagnosis. He sleeps a lot more, walks a lot slower, and his appetite isn’t what it used to be. Not sure if this is the result of the disease, the treatment, or the drugs he’s taking. Interestingly, he’s at his most energetic immediately following the radiation treatment. When we return to the small animal hospital to pick him up, he is thrilled to see us – tail wagging, barking, staggering about comically as the anesthesia works through his system.
Also, when he gets back home, he’s at his very hungriest, eating anything we put down in front of him. This is in stark contrast to his typical disposition to meal time. He’s grown incredibly fickle, to the point where we will prepare three or four different things for him in the hopes that one will strike his fancy. One day, he may want simmered chicken breast, another he may prefer beef. One morning, dog food will be fine while, that night, he may not want anything but mashed banana with a dollop of yogurt. Ultimately, as long as he’s eating, that’s the important thing. Over the past month, he’s been maintaining his svelte 22 pound physique.
I’m noticing that, on the home front, the other dogs are showing Maximus a little more – as crazy as it sounds – kindness: waiting for him to catch up on walks, snuggling up beside him at bedtime. Jelly seems particularly affected by Maximus’s weekly absences, crying when he leaves and then greeting him on his return with an enthusiasm usually reserved for me. And meal time.
The plan is to bring Maximus back for his anti-cancer vaccine in two weeks. At that time, they’ll do one final measurement of the tumor to see if these treatments have seen any positive results. And then, it’ll be back to Vancouver for some much-needed R&R (and here I refer to both Maximus and me). I’m hoping the flight back with these guys will go even smoother. I ended up making two trips to transport all four dogs back in March. Back then, Maximus was so quiet during the flight that I had to keep poking him to make sure he was alright. Bubba and Lulu were pretty good as well, saving up their howls for the baggage claim. Only Jelly was a problem, whimpering through most of the 5 hour flight. I won’t be taking the red-eye this time.
I’m hoping to get them back before there’s any movement on the recent Canadian Medical Association call for a ban on pets flying in cabin. The doctors argue that pets can cause sniffling, sneezing and, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock in people with severe allergies. Of course, I’d argue the same could be said for perfume, nuts, and various other potential allergens. According to the article in the Toronto Star, the doctors “said there would be no problem with transporting pets in a pressurized cargo hold” – which goes to show they may know something about allergies but know nothing about transporting dogs in cargo – especially short-snouted dogs like mine that are more likely to die in those less-than-cozy compartments: Short-snouted dogs most likely to die on planes – Travel – Travel Tips … Just ran into a guy today who drove up from Houston with his two boston terriers. He made the mistake of transporting them cargo once. When he went to pick them up, he discovered the water in their dog bowls had frozen solid during the flight!
So what’s the answer? What sort of compromise can be reached that will leave everyone happy? And make the airlines a lot of money in the process? How about pet-friendly flights? Actually charge animals for seats. I think they’d be pleasantly surprised by how many pet owners would fork over the cash to ensure their furry companions fly comfortably – and safely.
Above – a zen moment for Maximus in the garden outside the animal clinic.
Maximus has also been a lot needier of late, seemingly suffering separation anxiety whenever I leave him in the car. Akemi snapped the above pic when I popped out to pick up corn from a local farmer’s market. Apparently, he cried until I returned.
Sadly, the radiation treatments yielded no positive results. After the initial shrinkage, the tumor returned to its original size, suggesting a very aggressive melanoma. The doctor said the best hope now is that the anti-cancer vaccine works its magic and jump-starts his immune system. Other than that, she simply advised me to enjoy his company.
For now, Maximus seems in pretty good spirits. A little tired but generally happy. He may be a picky eater, but he’s still finishing his meals and that’s a good sign.
Here’s hoping the move back to familiar territory helps!